Chuck NorrisPhoto: www.chucknorris.comA lot of dreck comes across my desktop. I’m even on a list called “ennui mail,” and some of it is utterly irredeemable. But still I took notice when Chuck Norris: Copenhagen Talks To Forge “One World Order” blew in.  

I especially like this bit:

In this conference, they’re going to try to take our money and send it to third-world countries because of, since we spend so much oil and these other countries have suffered, then we’re going to give our money to these third-world countries.

But then there’s this:

“Neil, we have people here starving in our own country,” Norris said. “You know, my foundation, I have families, who are making $9,000 a year — the kids I’m teaching. Why aren’t we trying to help the poverty in our own country?”

… which demands to be taken a bit more seriously.  

I mean, how can it be that Chuck Norris, for crying out loud, is trumpeting his populist, pro-poor creds as a way of opposing international climate action? And why is the U.S. climate movement not widely seen as standing up for the American poor? And why is it so damn easy to paint greens as elitists? And is it not the case that, having gotten themselves typecast as middle-cast wonks, U.S. greens are now afraid to state the obvious truth — that it is only fair, as well as necessary, for the U.S. to pick up its share of the internation tab.

I posted the Chuck Norris question on the U.S. Climate Action Network list, which, by the way, can also engender a bit of ennui from time to time. Quick to respond was a fella who’s pretty well known up in Cascadia, though he wasn’t speaking on the record, so I won’t ID him:

This has gone badly sideways on us. I battled a group of teabaggers at a Gore book tour lecture in Portland last week. The class undertones were brutal: well-dressed, comfortable, calm people with their $60 tix filing inside the venue; struggling, ragged-looking people outside SCREAMING about the green fatcats and their grand climate conspiracy.

In response, Paddy McCully, the Executive Director of the Berkeley-based International Rivers (who’s entirely willing to go on the record) took the occasion to model a bit of snarky realism:

I think we can expect the ‘why are we sending money overseas when we aren’t helping the poor here’ rhetoric to be seriously ramped up by the tea-baggers. It’s perfect for them — xenophobic, nationalistic, populist, self-interested, self-contradictory (they don’t actually want money to be spent on the poor), anti-Obama, anti-Gore, anti-liberal elite, anti-science, anti-‘pouring money down foreign rat holes,’ anti-deficit increasing etc. etc.  And now Norris has caught onto it presumably Glenn Beck won’t be far behind. And no amount of rational (or symbolic/emotional) argument will stop it. 

In terms of broader public messaging in the U.S. I don’t think it’s even worth engaging on the international financing issue. Much better to stick to green jobs, energy security, technological competitiveness, natural disasters hurt the poor etc.

Which, when to think about it, is a pretty strong claim!  Because if we don’t “engage” on the international financing issue, there’s basically zero chance that the international negotiations are going to pick up any real momentum anytime soon. Which, of course, means failure. Which is exactly what our friends on the lunatic right want.

Meanwhile, back in the White House, the Obama team is going to try to thread the needle. Unable to avoid Copenhagen, the U.S. is preparing a financing offer that, while entirely inadequate in global justice terms, and tragically weak in the face of the new scientific consensus, at least gets the ball rolling. Maybe a billion dollars a year in international mitigation and adaptation assistance, and maybe in a few years, if things go well, some creative international finance on top of that. Nothing much really, not anytime soon, though obviously, the tea-baggers are still going to go nuts.  

What’s not obvious is what we’re going to do in response.

One thing we could do is make rational arguments. They soon surfaced on the USCAN list. First up was NRDC, with “Poor energy policy and climate change hurt the poor in the U.S.”  Lots of examples here, of course — health costs, dangerous weather and storms, and failing to “tap into the green jobs potential.” A nice pointer to a new study that with “strong implementation of energy efficiency measures the American Clean Energy and Security (ACES) act, which passed the House in June, could create as many as 1.9 million jobs between 2010 and 2020.” 

Then came Oxfam American, which noted another study, which “visually maps out climate impacts and vulnerable populations identified in 13 U.S. southeastern states (from Arkansas to Virginia),” and shows that “Acting on climate will benefit the poor in the U.S. because the poor in the U.S., just like the poor overseas, will be hit worst by the effects of climate change. Poor and vulnerable communities have little ability to prepare for and recover from climate-related disasters, no matter where they live.”

Good stuff, no doubt about it. And there’s no question that these arguments must absolutely be mainstreamed soon. “Green jobs” in particular, are critical, and the right knows it. Witness the sad tale of Van Jones. 

But I’m left feeling that something big is missing here. Something like populist rage. Something internationalist, but also exuberant in its eagerness to defend the not-so-rich people of the U.S. of A. Something that connects the dots, that does not hold climate protection apart, as if it were the proper concern of only those “well-dressed, comfortable, calm people with their $60 tix.” 

How about a loud national movement for free public transportation, for example? One paid for by congestion pricing schemes? How about bringing back Cap and Dividend, or something like it? How about progressive tax reform designed to lift up the poor and fund the climate transition at the same time? How about Big Green starts talking about America’s international responsibilities, in a way that vividly draws the link to our responsibilities to our own poor? How about we hear about unemployment in the third world from time to time? How about a new politics of solidarity, that refuses false distinctions between American needs and the needs of strangers? How about a class analysis of ecological footprints?

How about we step outside the climate sandbox, once and for all?